Crossroads: A student and postdoctoral association

Sooner or later all scientific students and postdocs reach a crossroads—a crucial junction in their careers when they must decide which path to take. The decision could be whether to pursue a position in a yeast lab versus a fly lab, whether to choose a career in academia or industry, or whether to leave the bench altogether. During those times of transitions, mentors play a crucial role in providing vital preparation and guidance. At Stowers, the aptly named Crossroads program offers additional resources to help students and postdoctoral researchers broaden their horizons and explore new directions.

Rushi Trivedi and Annita Achilleos, PhD

Originally organized in 2002, for several years Crossroads’ primary function was to provide career advice and ideas for trainees. It organized the Young Investigator Research Days (YIRD), which continues to showcase the scientific projects of students and postdocs as well as invite an annual scientific speaker. Since its modest beginnings, Crossroads has matured into an invaluable resource that hosts multiple speakers and events each year, and provides valuable networking and professional development opportunities to young scientists. Talks and training are offered on applying for fellowships, navigating the grant review process, giving effective oral presentations, and teaching a wide variety of other skills important for developing diverse science careers and communications skills.

“The process for obtaining a PhD and completing a postdoc is long and sometimes even discouraging, especially when experiments don’t work out as planned or you face difficulties you hadn’t expected,” says Crossroads postdoc chair Annita Achilleos, PhD. “Crossroads can serve as a source of support for young scientists during this phase of their careers.”

This year, under the leadership of Crossroads committee chairs Achilleos and Rushi Trivedi, the group hosted panel discussions and special lectures that highlighted a variety of science careers. “The reality is that not every scientist will end up with an academic appointment,” says Achilleos. “It is important for our members to know that there are many great opportunities for well-trained scientists outside of academia.” In fact, driven by member interest the 2013 YIRD keynote speaker was chosen from a select group of scientists who excel in careers outside of academia.

But the group’s agenda doesn’t stop with panelists and speakers. To emphasize professional networking, committee members added social events to the annual line-up. In addition to a social gathering during the National Postdoc Appreciation Week in September, Crossroads hosted a screening of PhD Comic: The Movie, a humorous take on life in graduate school. “The social events are an important component of our group, says Achilleos. “They provide opportunities for our members to connect with other scientists in a relaxed environment.”

Rallied by the positive response of its members and the enthusiastic support of Scientific Director Robb Krumlauf, PhD, and his staff, Crossroads leaders hope to expand events and activities next year, focusing on interactions with investigators and greater member participation.  “Crossroads is an integral organization that offers phenomenal opportunities to learn and develop many of the non-bench-based skills that are an important part of a scientist’s overall development,” says Krumlauf.